Annotation: Mimi Nguyen’s “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

Nguyen, Mimi. “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants: Race, Sexuality, and Prosthetic Sociality in Digital Space.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 281-305. Print.

In her article Nguyen critiques the uncritical celebration of the cyborg as a “transcendent figure of the technological sublime” (284). She admits that cyborgs do help denaturalize essentialist notions of identity as fixed to a rigid material body. Nguyen writes, cyborgs have been popularly depicted as able to “generate new bodies and design new selves in the choosing and fusing of new parts in a potentially endless process of consumption and self-invention” (286). Cyborgs therefore support a concept of identity as fluid and flexible. The ease with which cyborgs can replace or alter parts of their material body also suggests that one’s interiority is not necessarily tied to one’s flesh. Nguyen accentuates that this disjunction can also be understood with respect to people who have queer sexual identities such as those who identify themselves as transgender or engage in drag. But rather than sanguinely glorifying the power of these queer cyborgs to reconfigure their bodies and endlessly reinvent themselves, Nguyen stresses the need to analyze what it means to be a queer cyborg and to engage in “cybernetic drag” in specific social and political contexts.

She offers the example of Karma, a Vietnamese cyborg in the New Mutants series of Marvel comics. Nguyen asserts that Karma’s mutant state recalls the traumatic history of the Vietnam War where the United States used biochemical weapons such as napalm. She emphasizes that this causal history should not be ignored in the celebration of Karma’s mutant powers. Nguyen further elucidates Karma’s vexed position as a cyborg who must masquerade as a normal human being or be otherwise marked as a freak, yet her Vietnamese-ness already distinguishes her as “foreign” and “freak-ish.” Nguyen ultimately encourages her readers to not merely entertain the fantasy of a cybernetic existence but rather what it means to be a cyborg in a specific historical, social, political context and all the discrimination that may come along with that.